Copyright 1996, The Spokesman-Review
U.S. Rep. Helen Chenoweth is facing a tougher re-election campaign than Sen. Larry Craig, according to a new statewide poll.
The poll, conducted by Mason-Dixon Political Media Research for The Idaho Spokesman-Review and two television stations, shows Chenoweth favored by 43 percent to Democrat Dan Williams’ 36 percent - even though 47 percent of voters said they’d never heard of Williams.
“In my polling, we’re actually ahead of her,” Williams said Monday in a phone interview. “So I think what you can conclude from all the polls is it’s a neck-and-neck race.”
Chenoweth’s campaign manager, Jim Gambrell, disagreed. “I think Helen’s numbers are very good at this point in the race,” he said. “This poll has been taken after liberal interest groups and big labor unions have waged a fairly aggressive attack-ad campaign.”
Chenoweth also has run some ads, he said, through the Republican Party.
Nearly as many of the Idahoans polled had unfavorable views of Chenoweth as had favorable views.
“She’s got to work hard, very hard,” said Del Ali, vice president of the Columbia, Md.-based polling firm. “She’s in a dogfight.”
Chenoweth, a freshman Republican, faces only token opposition in next Tuesday’s primary election, as does Williams.
GOP challenger William Levinger had a 3 percent favorable rating to 7 percent unfavorable, and 64 percent had never heard of him. Democrat Matt Lambert had 4 percent favorable, 1 percent unfavorable, and 74 percent didn’t recognize his name.
Williams made a favorable impression on 16 percent of respondents, with just 3 percent reporting an unfavorable impression and 34 percent neutral.
Craig, who is unopposed in the primary, led Democrat challenger Walt Minnick 54 percent to 31 percent. Craig also showed strong approval ratings, and when voters were asked about his job performance, 57 percent rated it either excellent or good.
“Those numbers look pretty good for us,” said Mike Tracy, Craig’s campaign spokesman. “Walter Minnick really hasn’t even hit the base Democrat vote yet in the state with those numbers.”
Ali said the fact that Craig is drawing more than 50 percent support is a good sign for the incumbent, but he added, “To say that it’s over I think would be premature. Forty-two percent don’t recognize Minnick - not even 60 percent of the electorate know who he is.”
In order to close the gap, Minnick will have to raise his profile with Idahoans, Ali said, while persuading them that Craig isn’t so great.
“He’s got the money to do it,” Ali said.
In Minnick’s latest campaign finance report, filed Friday, he reported having $304,000 cash on hand. Craig had $558,000.
Bill Broadhead, spokesman for Minnick’s campaign, said he’s not discouraged by the poll numbers. Pointing to a Republican poll two months ago that showed Craig ahead 61 percent to 28 percent, Broadhead said the new poll shows Minnick gaining, “without running a single radio ad, without running a single TV spot.”
Minnick so far has focused on driving around the state, talking to voters, Broadhead said. “The fact that he has any name ID at all is pretty encouraging to me.”
Nineteen percent of respondents said they’d heard of Minnick and had favorable impressions; 8 percent had unfavorable impressions; and 31 percent were neutral.
The poll also asked Idahoans to name the issue that’s most important to them in deciding how to vote for Congress. Statewide, economy/jobs was first with 16 percent; it was even higher, at 18 percent, in the 1st Congressional District.
Surprisingly, the environment tied for third in the 1st District, with 11 percent. It drew just 9 percent statewide.
Chenoweth’s approval ratings contrast sharply with those of 2nd District Rep. Mike Crapo, who drew 66 percent favorable ratings and just 10 percent unfavorable. If the election were held today, voters said they’d choose Crapo over Democrat challenger John Seidl by 73 percent to 10 percent.
“Crapo is probably one of the top 10 safest seats in the country, both Democrat and Republican,” Ali said. “Crapo is non-confrontational, viewed as a gentleman.”
The poll was conducted by telephone last Thursday, Friday and Saturday. It queried 802 registered Idaho voters who all said they vote regularly in state elections. The group was evenly divided between men and women, and the margin of error was plus or minus 3.5 percent.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: The race for congressional seats